With the holiday season upon us, the gift of team apparel is top of mind. Certainly Falcons jerseys are flying off shelves, as is Baltimore Ravens branded gear. But what, if any, recourse is there for fans of that other feathered franchise—you know, the one with the 3-6 record?
Real Eagles fans know there’s only one spot in town to pick up a tee that properly conveys your disgust with the ‘Birds’. You won’t find it at Modell’s or Dick’s. They don’t come in kelly, or midnight, or that baby-soft micro-fiber blend. This t-shirt is white, its cotton, and can only be found on the corner of 18th and Market on a Friday afternoon. The seller, my preferred Center City street vendor of choice, Vernon.
Vernon has been selling t-shirts to Philly sports fans for over 30 years, and at 58 this Philly native has seen his share of triumph and tragedy where the city’s many franchises and other sports icons are concerned.His top selling t-shirt of all time, “If You Really Wanna Party You Put Your Money on Smarty” an equestrian inspired limerick in homage to Chester County, PA born Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones.
Vernon is a master of snappy copy. When asked how he comes up with the sayings for his t-shirts Vernon replies, “The same way Moses came up with the 10 Commandments. Divine inspiration, I guess it just came from above.” However, art really isn’t his specialty. The famed Smarty Jones tee sported a regal photo of none other than beloved gelding Bamboo Harverster, aka Mr. Ed. Vernon’s take, “You know what they say, a horse is a horse of course of course.”
Yes, a sense of humor is key when you are in the t-shirt business. Vernon’s signature Eagle’s tee, which has been a staple for many seasons now, touts “The Eagles Are Playing Like Shit…Pass Me Another Beer”—printed alongside a disgruntled fan, cup in hand, who heavily favors Calvin from the syndicated daily comic Calvin and Hobbes.
Vernon’s voice carries on the Friday afternoons that he’s stationed on Market Street, hawking t-shirts like a newsboy. He even sports the appropriate newsies headgear while shouting the familiar, and painfully accurate, catch phrase that adorns his shirts.
Both salesman and fan Vernon feels the best way for Jeff Lurie to salvage the franchise is to clean house. “Fire Reid and everyone from the general manager on down,” he advises. “The team needs more talent on the offensive line…no team can operate without talent on the offensive line.” Yet, Vernon stops short of blaming Michael Vick for the Eagles woes, “The offense can’t beat the blitz. I’m scared to imagine how someone slower than Vick would make out.”
Overall, Vernon’s projections are grim. “I think this season is already done. It would be impossible to correct things right now,” he says. “You can’t wave a magic wand to make underachieving players play better.”
For a man who makes his livelihood selling t-shirts, you would think the prospect of an incredibly short season has Vernon down. That is hardly the case. “It’s only a ballgame. If you’re that depressed about the Eagles, I wonder how you feel about the people in New York and New Jersey who are victims of the hurricane? At the end of the day, whether the Eagles finish in last place or not, Jeffrey Lurie is still a billionaire.” Like many long-time Eagles fans, Vernon knows that losses are as much a part of the fan experience as wins. Accepting that, and incorporating it into his sales strategy, has helped him turn a profit when the Eagles aren’t putting up points.
Some fans may find Vernon’s t-shirts to be disloyal, or even offensive. Yet his perspective is one that many, after decades of ups and downs with the team, share. “It’s only a game. Life is what’s important.” Without a doubt Vernon’s unique brand of humor, and salesmanship, make life as a disappointed Eagles fan a bit more bearable.